The NBA trade deadline is fast approaching, and the Lakers are in one of the most unique positions any team can be in. They’re both their conference’s top seed — they currently have a 4.5 game lead over the second-seeded Nuggets — but also have a roster with clear spots to upgrade. It’s rare that a team already showing to be as good as they are would have such clear avenues to improve, but here we are. The right trade, then, could catapult them from one of a few true contenders, to championship favorite.
But just because they Lakers could benefit from a trade does not mean one will actually happen. From more teams being in the playoff hunt than normal, to the fact that so many teams just came off very active free agent periods this past summer, it’s not yet clear league-wide who are the sellers and what players are going to be available for a deal. This can depress the market or, at the very least, create caution in doing a deal now when a few more weeks could help bring the type of clarity to several team’s situations that help them determine what to do at the deadline.
The Lakers, though, are surely doing their due diligence, so we are too. With that, here is your Lakers trade deadline primer, with a look at the team’s assets, who potential trade targets could be, and what, if anything, we should expect to happen by the time February 6th rolls around.
Kyle Kuzma is the Lakers’ best trade asset, but like Kuzma’s game-to-game production, what that means isn’t exactly predictable. On the positive side, Kuzma’s a fine young(ish) talent with clear upside to improve into his second contract and beyond. Some recent strong performances with Anthony Davis sidelined highlighted Kuzma’s ability to score in bunches, and Wednesday’s game against the Magic saw him rack up 7 assists even though his shot wasn’t falling. His offensive ceiling is high as a multifaceted scorer with improving ballhandling skills, good size, and enough of a jumper to be respected beyond the arc.
On the negative side, Kuzma’s inconsistency this season and his low salary make him a complicated centerpiece of a deal. He’d need to be aggregated with additional salary to bring back a comparable talent, and any exchange of Kuz likely means abandoning the idea of having an under 25 year old player in the pipeline to while constructing a team led by Anthony Davis.
This last point should not be ignored, particularly when paired with an understanding of the belief the Lakers front office and ownership has in Kuzma. The Lakers aren’t likely at all to give Kuzma away, creating a scenario where his value as an idea might exceed his on-court value to the Lakers and, even, his value to other teams.
Outside Kuzma, the Lakers’ trade assets are limited. Of the players they can trade without needing their permission to make a deal, Avery Bradley ($4.7 million), DeMarcus Cousins ($3.5 million) and Quinn Cook ($3 million) make the most money, and combining all their salary plus Kuzma’s in a trade would allow the Lakers to take back a player (or more) making roughly $19 million in salary. In reality, though, the Lakers are unlikely to trade Bradley at all — he’s too important to the team’s perimeter defense — and Cook/Cousins are nothing more than salary filler for most teams.
In terms of draft picks, the Lakers truly don’t have any to deal. While they’re very likely to have their own first round pick this season, they’re not able to trade it due to the protections placed on it as part of the Anthony Davis trade. Further, future first round picks owed to the Pelicans as part of that trade — either via outright picks going out or through pick swap options by New Orleans — mean the Lakers do not control their own first rounder through the 2025 draft. As for second round picks, the Lakers 2020 second rounder is owed to Orlando, their 2021 second rounder goes to Detroit, and their 2022 second rounder goes to either Washington or Chicago. So, sure, the Lakers could include second round picks in 2023 and 2024 in a deal, but those will have little value to most teams around the league.
What complicates potential Lakers trade scenarios even more is that there are several players on the roster with veto rights over any deal. KCP, JaVale McGee, and Rajon Rondo can all refuse to be traded due to stipulations in the collective bargaining agreement related to the loss of their Bird Rights in a trade. While the Lakers would be unlikely to trade any of these players anyway — all are current contributors and/or key rotation players — the inability to include them in any trade without their permission adds another hurdle to clear, even if the only purpose they might serve would be as salary ballast to make a deal work from a money standpoint.
Potential Trade Targets
As dire as all the above sounds, the Lakers are surely going to be active in trying to improve their roster using the means at their disposal. Their biggest needs remain an additional offensive facilitator and shot creator at point guard, a big wing defender who can matchup with players like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo, and another shooter who can play on the wing to help unlock small-ball lineups with Davis at center and LeBron James at power forward.
Who are some potential trade targets at each of these spots who could end up being available and within the price range — both from an asset and contract cost standpoint?
In no particular order...
Rose is a shot-creating point guard who would slide right into the team’s second unit as a quality scorer and setup man for others. Rose’s best days are behind him, but the past two seasons he’s reestablished himself as a viable threat who can get to and score at the rim, hit mid-range jumpers and shoot from range with improved 3-point shooting ability.
While not a natural playmaker for others, Rose is able to leverage the advantages gained via his physical ability in isolation and pick-and-roll situations to draw extra defensive attention and hit teammates for open shots. He isn’t the spot-up shooting, care-taker point guard most associate as the best type of sidekick for LeBron and/or AD, but for a team that needs a consistent threat to help drive their 2nd unit offense, the Lakers could do a lot worse than Rose.
With Blake Griffin injured, Andre Drummond’s future with the team in question, and the Pistons on the outside of the playoff picture/on the verge of a rebuild, Rose is a prime trade target not just for the Lakers, but around the league. While I’m not sure I’d want to include Kuzma in a deal for Rose, the odds of getting him for some combination of the salary filler the Lakers could offer besides Kuz is extremely low. That said, he’d be a good fit in LA and would immediately offer a dynamism from the point guard position this team currently lacks.
The list of wing shooters the Lakers would have interest in begins with Bogdanovic. The Kings shooting guard has already been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors (more on this later) and for good reason. Bogie is shooting 38.3% from 3 this year, and is known for his fearlessness and ability to take and hit big shots. He also has enough ballhandling and playmaking skill to moonlight as a secondary playmaker, making him, maybe, the most desirable target for the Lakers overall. It’s easy to envision a scenario, for example, where Rondo stays with the team as the backup point guard, but cedes some of the playmaking and ball handling duties to Bogdanovic on second units that are built around AD.
Wayne Ellington, Langston Galloway and E’Twaun Moore
If looking for other targets who could provide shooting, but not check too many other boxes, the Knicks’ Ellington is a name to watch as is another Piston in Galloway. Ellington’s not having his best season in a less than ideal Knicks situation, but he’s a career 37.7% shooter from distance and is only 2 seasons removed from shooting 39%. As for Galloway, he’s hitting 39.3% of his threes as a key rotation player in Detroit this year.
Moore is a sleeper guy who I’m including here, but don’t have high hopes for being able to actually get. I don’t know what the Lakers could offer the Pelicans since they already own so many future Lakers assets, but Moore is a 39% 3-point shooter this season, and obviously has a history of playing with AD. It’s possible he could help, even if acquiring him isn’t the likeliest scenario.
If there’s a wing defender on the market to keep an eye on, I believe the player to watch for is Covington. A prototypical 3-and-D wing who can play both forward positions, RoCo is sure to be in demand this trade season by more teams than just the Lakers. That said, a swap for a package centered around Kuzma could be one that is appealing to both teams.
On the Lakers’ side, Covington could be slotted in any type of lineup the Lakers wanted to use, could defend any of the wing positions (and stretch power forwards), and is comfortable taking threes at a decent volume. His accuracy isn’t as good as I’d like (35.5% this year, 36% for his career), but the hope would be the value he’d bring defensively would be enough.
From the Wolves’ side of the equation, Kuzma is younger, cheaper, and is a more natural offensive fit next to Karl-Anthony Towns as a long-term piece. Considering Kuz’s upside and potential to improve, they could see this as a viable swap to build into next season. Again, if Covington actually hit the market, I would not be surprised to see other teams get aggressive in their bidding for him. But I’d also expect the Lakers to be in on those talks, too.
What to Expect by the Trade Deadline
I’m not going to lie here, I think the Lakers would really want to make a deal, but I have a hard time seeing something develop.
The early reports surrounding a Kuzma for Bogdanovic swap seemed juicy, but as more information surfaced about the nature of those discussions, it seems like those leaks were very much Lakers’ centric and not necessarily driven by what the Kings were willing to do.
Further, with Bogdanovic currently dealing with ankle issues and Kuzma’s play so up-and-down of late, it’s hard to see either side getting excited about that type of swap — especially anytime soon. Sure “talks” could always be revisited, but I do believe reports stating that the Kings were not excited about taking on the Lakers’ salary filler in a Kuzma-centric trade, and when you consider the lack of history of these division foes trading with each other — the two franchises have literally never made a deal while the Kings are in Sacramento — it all seems a bit farfetched that they’d come to terms on an agreement.
As for a trading for a smaller piece, I suppose that’s possible, but I do not think it’s particularly likely. The Lakers’ biggest needs are in the backcourt and on the wing. They also have a fair amount of depth at those positions already. Unless you’re getting a clear upgrade to the players you already have getting real minutes, I’m not sure if trading away fringe rotation players is something the Lakers would do.
For example, a Cook/Daniels for Ellington trade works financially, but is Ellington really likely to play over KCP, Green, Bradley, or Caruso? If not, would you want to disrupt chemistry to make that move, even if you believe Ellington is better than either of the players you’d be trading him for? That’s only one example, but those are the considerations the Lakers have up and down their roster.
In the end, I do think Rob Pelinka will be working the phones. And I do think if he can find a workable deal for Kuzma and filler that brings back a potential impact player, he’d pull the trigger. The Lakers have to know their championship window is wide open right now, and that any move that can get them closer has to be seriously considered and, if it’s good enough, executed. I’m just doubtful such a deal materializes. There are too many factors not in the Lakers’ favor, and they also may want to stand pat because they don’t want to disrupt something that’s working. At No. 1 in the West, that’s a choice they can make, but it seems certain they’ll consider alternatives that could make them even better over the next few weeks.